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PINE VALLEY, Washington County — The intense moments of a large cougar being released from a bobcat trap were caught on video, and the Division of Wildlife Resources employee talked about the unique experience.
DWR conservation officer Mark Ekins said he often responds to help trappers release cougars, which are accidentally caught in traps meant for coyotes or bobcats. Ekins said it is illegal to intentionally trap a cougar in Utah, and so when trappers discover a mountain lion in their trap, they are legally required to release the animal and report it to DWR officials within 48 hours.
While many of the large cougars are able to pull out of the traps and can free themselves, sometimes help is required to safely release the animal. Ekins said they prefer to use animal tranquilizer darts when possible, but that tranquilizers have to be kept in a main DWR office and he can't always get some when he is called to remote areas.
Ekins said it is fine for trappers to release the cougars themselves if they feel comfortable and can do so safely, but they must still report it to officials. He recommended that people contact DWR conservation officers for help in releasing any animal if they feel uneasy about doing it.
"It could be a potential dangerous situation," Ekins said. "Anytime they feel uncomfortable at all, we'd definitely rather them call us and allow us to help them rather than take a chance of injuring an animal."
Ekins said he responded to a call to help release a cougar in the Pine Valley Mountains Dec. 17. He said it was one of the largest cougars he has ever had to release from a trap, and so he decided to film the incident.
"Anytime we do something that the public doesn't see all the time, I will video some of it," he said.
Ekins and the trapper used several catch poles on the cougar's head and back foot to get it to lie down and stretch out so they could release its front foot from the trap. The 6-minute video shows the intense scenario, but the cougar was eventually released and ran off after resting for a moment. Ekins said releasing a large animal is always slightly nerve-wracking.
"If I wasn't nervous or started to lack respect for the power of that animal, it could potentially be very dangerous," he said. "I'm nervous and I'm extremely careful when doing it. … I've probably only done three in my career that were as big as the one you saw. That was a really big one."
Ekins said the traps are designed so they don't harm the animals, but sometimes the animal's skin is broken during the struggle. The cougar had minor bleeding on its front paw after it was released. Most of the cougars are accidentally captured during the three-month bobcat trapping season, which typically runs from December to February.